Way back in Book 4 of Genesis — the account of Noah and his sons — God sent a flood and destroyed the corrupted civilization of Cain. Unfortunately, that same flood also destroyed the Garden of Eden, which was the original connecting point between earth and heaven. The sacred center of the earth had been removed.
And this is why, after the flood was finished, Noah planted a new garden — a vineyard, to be exact. It was his calling to reboot the earth, to plant a new sacred center on the earth, clean up the damage done by the flood, and continue the work of gradually bringing all of creation into proper order under God’s rule.
But Noah failed. He got drunk instead, lost control of his family, and the sons fell into conflict with one another. And Book 5 of Genesis — the account of Noah’s sons and their sons — told us the story of how Noah’s sons produced 70 distinct nations which scattered in every direction, to every corner of the earth.
And we discussed at that time how the number 70 is very symbolic: it is 7 times 10, and to the ancient people of Israel both of those numbers symbolized completeness and fullness. So the message Moses was sending with that number was that all nations on earth are actually related to one another, and therefore all nations on earth have the ability to enter into a covenant relationship with God. In other words, Moses was saying: God’s salvation is not just for the people of Israel. Every human being from every nation on earth is created in the image of God, and all are eligible for salvation.
But, without a sacred center on the earth, where is this salvation supposed to come from? Without a garden of Eden for the 70 nations to return to, how are they going to be saved?
Well, in Book 5, people tried to solve this problem by building their own sacred centre: the garden-temple-city of Babylon. Their goal was to re-unite the 70 nations once again, to bring all of creation into proper order under their own rule.
It did not work, of course. Human beings are contentious creatures, and as soon as you pack a lot of them into one small space you are going to have problems — especially if God himself steps in and says, “Uh: no.”
And so the 70 nations were scattered once again across the face of the earth, each nation — each ethnicity — building their own cities, their own sacred spaces.
And no one realized it at the time, but God himself was already at work to undo this mess. And so, in Book 6, Moses told us the story of how God sifted through through the wreckage of Babylon, how he cultivated just one family line down through the generations until he could produce just the right man: a messiah like Noah, a messiah who would answer God’s call to leave Babylon and begin the process of re-planting the true garden of Eden — the true sacred center built by God’s will not by mankind’s.
Well, God found his messiah: Abraham. And Books 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 told us the story of how, through Abraham’s obedience, the land of Canaan was claimed for God. Altars were built in the north, in the south, and at the highest point in the center. Gateways were built in the north, in the south, and in the center, at the Jordan River. Gradually, the foundations of a new nation-sized garden-city were laid in the land of Canaan. Despite the continued conflict within each generation of Abraham’s family, God continued his stubborn work of rebuilding his sacred space.
But then, in Book 12, the whole narrative of Genesis took a sharp left turn: God’s chosen messiah Joseph got sold into slavery in Egypt! — which was basically the Babylon of its time: the greatest man-centered, serpent-worshiping, false garden-temple on earth. It looked like God’s plan to save Abraham’s family from the crushing tyranny and chaos of Babylon was about to fail!
And then the narrative took an even sharper left turn when God’s chosen messiah Joseph just went ahead and transformed Egypt itself into the new garden of Eden!
And then, to make matters even worse: God struck the whole world — including the land of Canaan — with a life-killing famine. So now Egypt is the only life-giving, sacred centre on earth.
Which leaves us wondering: what about the land of Canaan? What about that whole plan? Why this abrupt shift of the centre from Canaan to Egypt?
What is going on?
Well, the good news is, we are not the only ones asking those questions: Joseph has also been giving this serious thought.
The moment he looked down from his throne and saw the faces of his brothers looking up at him, Joseph realized why God had allowed him to be sold into slavery: he realized that God wants him to bring his father’s entire family down to Egypt so that he can save them from the famine that has swept the world.
But he has also known that it will be very difficult to persuade his father Jacob to make such a move.
Because, after all, when Abraham moved to Egypt to escape from a famine, he got into all kinds of trouble!
And then, when Isaac was a young man, God explicitly told him not to leave the land of Canaan.
And then, when Jacob left the land of Canaan to escape from his brother, he also got into all kinds of trouble!
Everything about Abraham’s family history says: do not leave the land of Canaan! Even if there is a famine. Even if you need a wife. Even if your brother wants to kill you: do not leave the land God has given our family!
So Joseph has known that his dad is going to need some very clear signs from God telling him that it is now okay to leave.
And the very clearest sign God could possibly give Jacob would be the resurrection of Joseph from the dead! If Jacob hears the voice of his own long-lost son saying, “Dad! There is going to be five more years of famine. You have got to move the family here if you want to be saved!” — well, then, perhaps, Jacob might realize that this really is God’s command to leave Canaan.
But Joseph has also known that, in order to persuade his father that he is back from the dead, he first needs to persuade his brothers to tell his father that he is back from the dead. But in order to persuade his brothers to tell his father that he is back from the dead he is going to have to persuade his brothers to admit that they were the ones who killed him in the first place.
Well, last week, Joseph achieved his goal. His brothers finally confessed that they deserved slavery and death in Egypt. Judah, in particular, offered to give up his life in exchange for the life of his brother Benjamin, so that his father Jacob might live. Joseph finally revealed his own identity and set his brothers free from their guilt. And then he told them to hurry home and fetch their father Jacob!
And so, as we pick up the threads of our story here today, we find that Joseph’s work of turning the land of Egypt into a new paradise has not just been about growing crops and storing them away, he has also been at work transforming his colleagues in government:  When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased.  Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan,  and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’
 “You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come.  Never mind about your belongings — leave everything behind! — because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’”
And we are supposed to notice how different this pharaoh is from the one who was in power when Abraham visited Egypt. That pharaoh detained Abraham, loaded his family into the back of an immigration lorry, and dumped him at the border.
This pharaoh is offering Jacob’s family the best of everything!
 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey.  To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes.
Now, these gifts of clothing are very significant:
A few episodes ago we realized that the concept of “clothing” had been central to Books 1 and 2 of Genesis — and then it basically disappeared until Book 12, here at the end. And we only fully realized the significance of clothing on the day Joseph was lifted up out of prison and robed with glory and honour and authority: we realized that clothing covers shame and guilt, it transforms a person’s identity, it restores their image before God. Clothing symbolizes forgiveness, and redemption.
Well, here, Joseph is extending that redemption to his brothers. He is covering their shame, he is wiping out their guilt.
Because, remember, last time Joseph saw his brothers, they stripped him of his clothes. He could demand that they pay him back now by giving him new clothing! But no: his forgiveness is complete, so complete that he is giving them the clothes they owe him.
But if clothing symbolizes forgiveness, why does Benjamin get five times the forgiveness? — a forgiveness that, technically, he does not need?
Is this Joseph practicing favouritism?
Well…no. See, Benjamin is Joseph’s full-brother. The other 10 are half-brothers. So, biblically speaking, Joseph is closer to Benjamin, he is more responsible to provide for Benjamin than he is for the other 10 brothers. That is not favouritism, that is his duty.
There is more going on here than just Joseph’s duty as a brother, there is more going on here than simple forgiveness for past sins.
Because — returning once again to this concept of clothing — we have to notice that a lot of clothing has been torn here in Book 12: the brothers tore off Joseph’s robe. Reuben tore his clothes when he found Joseph missing from the cistern. Jacob tore his clothes when he discovered Joseph’s death. All the brothers tore their clothes when the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s baggage.
And what this teaches us is that the loss of clothing is not just about shame and guilt, it is also about grief and despair. Which means that:
A gift of new clothing is also a way of proclaiming an end to sorrow, an end to despair. Joseph is not simply taking extra care of his little brother, he is sending a message to his father, Jacob. He is saying, “Dad! Your days of mourning are over forever! No matter what goes wrong in the future, I will take care of Benjamin, I will take care of you, I will take care of the family. You are all safe now.”
And so off they go with ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey.
 And as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
And this word “quarrel” in the Hebrew is very hard to translate completely.
Basically, Joseph is concerned that his brothers might have second thoughts about telling their father the truth when they get home. He knows they have a long history of jealousy, and deception, and internal conflict, and those habits are hard to break. So he is basically saying, “Hey, don’ perasan la! Relax! Stay humble! Trust the process!”
So they go home, they tell their dad the news, but Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them, until he saw the entire caravan arrive, and then he said, “Okay la! I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
The voice of his dead son, raised back to life, has convinced Jacob that it is God’s will for him to leave the land of Canaan.
 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba — the southern gateway of the land, where his father Isaac had lived most of his life, where Jacob himself had spent his childhood — he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
Why? Because this is a big move. Jacob is planning to leave the land of his ancestors — he is about do exactly what God told Abraham and Isaac not to do.
Now, he does have a very good reason to believe that this is God’s will. But still…Jacob wants to stop and pray about it. He wants to check with God directly.
 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
 “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.  I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
So here we have confirmation that this sharp left turn is in fact God’s plan. Egypt really is the new sacred centre of the earth, the new garden-temple of God’s salvation.
— at least: for now. But we’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come.
And, by the way, this is the last time God speaks to someone in the Book of Genesis. This is God’s last direct appearance until he meets Moses at the burning bush, almost 400 years later.
And the reason I am pausing to point this out is so we can understand another larger pattern in the way God works in the world: there are times and seasons when God speaks directly with certain people in scripture, but those times are actually pretty rare. If we pay attention to the overall timeline of the bible we will realize that God is often silent for centuries, offering no direct guidance for his people.
But this does not mean that he is not guiding his people during those years! Because, in every case, God makes sure to leave his written Word behind. Most of the time, when God appears to people in the bible, it is so they can act as a prophet, and write down God’s words — and then, for the next few centuries, God’s people are supposed to rely on that prophet’s writings for guidance.
And this is important for us to understand, because I think we have all wished sometimes for a vision or a voice from heaven. Our attitude is, “God, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” That desire is natural.
However, there have always been certain churches, certain Christians, who will teach that visions and voices are supposed to be normal. And some of those Christians will try to make you feel like less of a Christian if you have not had a mystical experience of God.
So, if you have felt condemned by those kinds of Christians, allow me to reassure you: they are mistaken. The bible teaches us that the bible contains all the guidance we need for our Christian lives. God does sometimes use visions and voices, but that is actually quite rare — even in the bible.
 Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him.  So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan.
And now Moses pauses the narrative to give us a detailed passenger list.
And, as usual, for us modern readers, this just comes across as another long boring list of names of people that we don’t really know or care about.
And that is okay!
Because the point Moses really wants to make is found at the end of the list, beginning in verse 26:
All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons.  With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.
And now it all becomes clear:
Back in Book 5, the 70 descendants of Noah found themselves scattered across the face of the earth. Even though they were all from the same family, even though they all shared the same image of God, without a sacred centre they drifted apart. Over time they became different races, different ethnicities, they learned to hate one another.
But here, as we near the end of Book 12, we see the hand of God drawing the 70 descendants of Jacob back together, drawing them out of famine and wilderness into the land of plenty, into the land of life and salvation.
Moses has very deliberately used the number 70 to tie those two events together: the Tower of Babel at the end of Book 5 with the Land of Egypt here at the end of Book 12. And the big lesson he is teaching is this: whenever a nation tries to build its own sacred centres, whenever a nation tries to reach out and take power for itself, it will be destroyed and scattered. But when God builds, when God transforms, when God calls, and when the nations of the earth answer that call — then we find ourselves united once again into one family, one race, one ethnicity, one people.
For Moses, the journey of Jacob’s nation down into Egypt is meant to be symbolic of every nation’s journey down to Egypt. That is what this number 70 means: 7 times 10, completion multiplied by fullness. This is meant to be a picture, a prophecy, — a promise! — that one day, through the work of God’s Messiah, people from all the nations of mankind will be reconciled, brought back from wherever they have been scattered, brought back into the great garden-temple of God where there will be food and drink and an infinite supply of new clothing.
Okay. That’s cool.
But, going back to our earlier question: what about the land of Canaan? What happened to that whole plan? Was that just…temporary or something?
Well…no. God promised Abraham that the land of Canaan would belong to Abraham’s people — to God’s people — forever. Forever is not temporary. Abraham’s family still has a claim to Canaan even if they are moving to Egypt for a while. We know this because God just told Jacob, “I will surely bring you back again.”
However, as we have been discovering through the story of Joseph, the land of Canaan is designed to act as a seed of the new garden. During Phase 1 of God’s plan, the restored garden-temple will be centred in the soil of Canaan. But in Phase 2 of God’s plan, that garden-temple is going to grow up and fill the entire earth with the knowledge of God. In Phase 1, the land of Canaan is the sacred center of God’s presence. In Phase 2, every land on earth — the entire earth! — becomes the sacred center of God’s presence.
Which means that this sudden left turn where Egypt has suddenly become the sacred centre of the earth is simply meant to be a preview of Phase 2. Moses is busy letting his people know that their land — the promised land of Canaan — is going to be central to God’s plan for the next couple of thousand years. But after that! — after God reveals his true Messiah, risen from the dead, crowned king over all the earth — after that, the rest of the earth is also going to become central to God’s plan.
So it is not as if the holy land of Israel becomes less holy! — it’s just that every other land on earth becomes just as holy.
Which is still another way of saying that Israel will not be as special in Phase 2 as it used to be in Phase 1. And Moses knew that his people were going to struggle with this shift in the future. That is why he tried to prepare them with this extended prophecy.
And the New Testament — which tells the story of how Phase 2 got started — the New Testament shows us that, sure enough, the nation of Israel really struggled to accept that they were not God’s “only child” anymore. At several points in the New Testament, God’s prophets tried to reassure the Jewish people that this shift in emphasis from the land of Israel to the entire earth really is God’s plan. They said, “Look, guys, we were God’s ‘first-born’ nation, and that means we will always be special to him! But now all these other nations are also being ‘born’ into God’s family — they are coming and joining the kingdom of our Jewish Messiah! — and that means they are now also special to God! Because God does not commit the sin of favouritism: he loves all his children the same! So don perasan la! Don’t be jealous of your younger brothers and sisters, rejoice that the family is growing!”
And last week we saw how Joseph’s public revelation of his identity to the sons of Jacob was a preview of the Day of Pentecost in the New Testament. The Day of Pentecost was the day Jesus publically revealed his identity to the sons of Jacob. And we saw last week how many thousands from the nation of Jacob accepted Jesus’ message. They heard the voice of their Messiah from beyond the grave, speaking to each of them in their own languages — because, remember, even though they were Jews, they were also citizens from all over the Roman empire, many of them did not even know how to speak Hebrew anymore. They heard their Messiah’s voice speaking their languages, they recognized their guilt, they recognized that Jesus alone has the authority to pay their debt and save them from judgement. They were baptized, they joined the Church, they lived in community with one another, learning all that they needed to know from Jesus’ apostles and prophets.
And then, a few years later, they began to scatter again to every corner of the Roman empire, just like the 70 nations descended from Noah did in the beginning.
But this time the scattering was not because of a judgement: it was because of a calling.
Just as Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers in Egypt and then sent them home to preach the Good News to their families, so also Jesus revealed his true identity to his brothers in Jerusalem — and then sent them home to preach the Gospel to their families, to the rest of the nations of the world.
Joseph told his brothers to lead their families out of the land of Israel into the land of Egypt, so that they would not perish in the famine that God had sent upon the earth.
Jesus also told his brothers to lead their families out of the land of Israel into all the nations of the world, so that they would not perish in the judgement that God was about to send on Jerusalem!
Phase 1 was complete. Which meant that the sacred center of Phase 1 — land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and its temple — that centre was no longer needed. In fact, it very much needed to be removed, so that it would not become an idol for God’s people! In Phase 2, God’s people are not supposed to center their lives around a sacred place anymore, they are supposed to center their lives around a sacred person: the risen Messiah!
And this explains why, for Christians, it does not matter where we worship. Every other religion in the world needs to build temples, masjids — retreat centres! — where worshipers can escape from the unclean world and enter into the presence of the gods they worship.
But for us, the whole earth is holy to God! We do not need special sacred buildings anymore, because we live our everyday lives in the presence of the God we worship! For us, the ”Church“ is not a building. In fact, the word “church” simply means “the gathering”. The Church is not a sacred place, it is a sacred people gathered around the sacred person of Jesus Christ.
The whole point of Phase 2 is the decentralization of God’s people, so that wherever they carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wherever they settle and preach and plant a church, that spot — that land — becomes a new Holy Land, a new Promised Land, a new garden-temple of God. The whole point of Phase 2 is to make sure people from every nation on earth get to hear the Good News, so that the image of God within us all can finally be clothed and restored to its former glory — so that we can finally be reconciled to one another and to our Father in Heaven.
Okay. So we understand that Moses, through all this, was trying to prepare the ancient people of Israel for Phase 2 of God’s plan, so that they could recognize it and participate in it when it arrived.
But what about us? What are we supposed to do with this information?
Well, if you are here today and you are not yet a Christian, if you have not yet been baptized into the sacred name of Jesus Christ, then this is your application: you should get baptized.
But that is just the first step. If you do not come from a Christian family, then you should move away from your former identity, your former cultural and religious “homeland”, and you should dedicate yourself to joining the family of God — the Church — so that you can learn what it means to have a new identity in Christ.
Now, I realize that this is a big request. I realize that, most likely, you have been told — all your lives! — that it is not God’s will for you to leave your previous identity and become a Christian. And really, you were taught correctly: you should be very careful to question whether a move like this really is God’s will or not. You should ask for a very clear sign from God proving that he wants you to do this.
…you should also know that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is that very clear sign from God. Just like Jacob, you are hearing a voice from beyond the grave. Just like the people on the Day of Pentecost, you are hearing the voice of God’s risen Messiah saying, “Brothers! Sisters! God’s judgement is going to fall upon those cultural and religious ‘homelands’ that you grew up in. So you have got to leave all that behind and join me if you want to be saved!”
Now, I do also want to be clear about this: I am not speaking literally! You may not have to physically leave your family or your homeland. In fact, the bible tells us that, if your parents and your brothers and sisters are willing to live in peace with you as a Christian, then you should do your best to live in peace with them. If this is not possible, then: yes, you may physically leave.
But generally speaking, your journey out of death into the life of Christ is a spiritual pilgrimage. It means the spiritual transformation of how you think and how you live. The journey begins with baptism. But it can only continue if you join a “gathering” of Christians — a living local church! — that can model for you what it looks like to live on this earth that God has given us. So that means deliberately leaving behind the culture of death you were raised in.
This is how the Apostle Paul said it in the New Testament: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
In other words, an essential part of our spiritual pilgrimage toward new life in Christ is learning how to question our presuppositions, learning how to examine the things we were taught and see if they measure up to Jesus. As you do this, as you learn how to submit to Jesus’ rule through the Word of God, your life will be transformed. And the only way to learn how to do this is by joining a local church that will teach you God’s Word and teach you how to look back at your previous way of life and test it in the light of God’s Word.
And I want to be very honest here by saying this: if you grew up in a Muslim home, or a Buddhist home, or a Hindu home — in a household dedicated to some other religion — then you could be facing a long journey out of your former way of life, just as Jacob faced a long journey out of the lands of famine and death.
And I also want to be even more honest here by saying that, if you grew up in the “Christian West” then, in some ways, your journey toward a truly Christian identity could be even longer and more difficult, because it may not be as obvious to you that your background culture is just as far away from Christ as a Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu culture. Many western nations have mastered the illusion of looking “Christian” but without the reality. And they have mastered the art of making their citizens believe that they are, essentially, “Christian” nations. And as we discussed last week, the illusion of truth can be much, much harder to break than an obvious untruth.
But I also want to be honest by saying this: the journey is worth it. Count the cost! — by all means, count the cost before you begin. But know also that there will be rewards along the road that you did expect, and a fullness of life at the end that you could never have anticipated.
And we are definitely going to be talking a lot more about these details next week! So make sure to come back for that.
So to summarize this part: if you are just getting baptized, or have just been baptized, this is your application: leave home — mentally and spiritually at least! and perhaps even physically. Dedicate yourself to Christ through a local church, just like the first Christians did during the years that followed the Day of Pentecost.
Now, if you are here today and you were baptized some time ago, if you have been growing in Christ and in a local church for a few years, then this is our application: go home! — just like the first Christians did in the years that followed the Day of Pentecost.
Go home, and carry the Good News home with you. Jesus has now given us all the transportation and provisions we need to make that journey, he has even given us extra sets of clothing so that we can go home proclaiming the end of guilt and shame and grief and despair! It is our job now to go and preach the Gospel to the “70 nations” — all the nations, the fullness of the nations — and bring them out of the lands of famine into the lands of life, out of their false sacred centres into the only true sacred centre of the universe: Jesus Christ and his Church.
And that is great!
However, if you are anything like me, that kind of aggressive evangelistic language tends to fill you with a formless dread. Because I, for one, being rather shy, would rather die for a stranger on a battlefield than talk to a stranger in a lift.
I exaggerate, of course — but I think many of you know what I mean.
If you do not know what I mean, if you do in fact love talking to strangers in lifts, then that is a sign that God has given you the gift of direct evangelism. If that is you, please use your gift! We need you to do that. The Church needs you to do that. Jesus commands you to that.
But Jesus also says that the gift of direct evangelism is only one of many gifts, and he is equally clear that not everyone is given the gift of direct evangelism. In fact, the bible indicates that the gift of direct evangelism is actually reserved for a minority of God’s people.
Most of God’s people have been given the gifts of indirect evangelism: the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, prayer, healing, serving, giving, helping…loving.
And the reason I am pointing this out is so that we can develop a deeper understanding of what it really looks like for us to go home and carry the Good News wherever we go.
What we are seeing here, in this episode of Genesis, is that the preaching of the gospel to the “70 nations” of the world…begins within the family.
We actually started to talk about this last week. Last week, this was our application: now that we know our Father loves us freely and fairly, let us learn how to love others freely and fairly — especially those who are most closely related to us.
This week we are finding out why. The reason Jesus has commanded us to go home and love one another as our Father has loved us is because, as we do this, we are extending and filling the garden-temple of Christ’s Church.
To put it another way: we are not just calling people away from something, we are also calling them to something. And in order to do that we need something to call them to! Our application for young believers just now was for them to leave their former ways of life and join the Church so that how they think and how they live can be transformed. Well, our job is to be the Church, to be the model of what it looks like to live lives transformed by Christ.
And how do we do that? What does a life transformed by Christ look like?
Well, getting specific, here — based on the story of Joseph and his brothers — we can say this: Christians are people who practice honest speech, who confess their guilt to one another, who extend forgiveness to one another. Christians are people who give away money and food even to those who do not fully understand why they are receiving these things. Christians are people who clothe those around them with the promise of redemption and joy, who treat their family members and their neighbors with the glory and honour due to them as creatures made in the image of God.
Our sacred centre is a sacred person: Jesus Christ. And our sacred space is a sacred people gathered around Jesus. These means that Christianity is not defined by buildings or crosses or other physical symbols, it is defined by the behaviour of its people.
Now, that is a heavy responsibility. I realize that! It is scary to think that the best way to grow God’s kingdom is by loving my family. Because the truth is, we do not love our families as well as we should! — especially our non-Christian family members.
So, if you are sitting there thinking, “Oh no! I really have not loved my cousin very well and because of me he is going to hell!” — allow me to offer you this Good News, this Gospel:
First: Jesus is the sacred centre, not you, not me. We do not have the power or the authority to save people or condemn them. We are a sacred people, a holy people, but we are not perfect — not yet. So relax about that. Your cousin’s future is in God’s hands, not yours.
Second: because Jesus is the sacred centre — not us — and because he does have the power and authority to save people or condemn them, because he is perfect…he is the one who ultimately extends and fills the garden-temple of his Church. He is doing this work through us, through our love for one another: this is why we are commanded, again and again in scripture, to love one another, to live holy lives. That is what we are striving for. But the Good News is that, because of his Holy Spirit who lives in our midst, he is able to work even through our very imperfect expressions of love.
And what does this Good News mean for us?
It means we are actually at rest. We are resting, even as we work to build Christ’s kingdom.
Now, how can I say that? Isn’t that a contradiction?
No. Remember: last week we saw that Joseph’s revelation of himself to his brothers was the resolution of the crisis. The work of redemption is finished. The war is over. Which means that rest of the Book of Genesis is the “denouement”, the long slow relaxation into the Golden Age of Joseph’s rule.
Today’s episode has shown us the firstfruits of the Golden Age: how Joseph’s brothers have gone back and reunited their broken families and brought the 70 descendants of Jacob down to Egypt so they can be saved.
That is where we are now, also. The risen Christ was publically revealed on the Day of Pentecost, 2000 years ago. He finished the work of redemption, and sat down on the throne at his Father’s right hand. And so all the years from that day until this have been Golden Years of rest. The work of the harvest is still going on — all the “70 nations” of the earth are still being gathered into Christ’s kingdom — but harvest work is also restful work, because we are getting to enjoy — even now! — the firstfruits of the Golden Age of Jesus. We are getting to enjoy being a family again, a family made up of people from every nation on earth. Jesus did all the real work! all we do is collect the fruit. We may not always be very good at it, but still: the work is getting done.
So let us rest in that!